Focused Bearcats start CWS
Friday, May 23, 2014 11:55 PM
The focus of this year’s Lander University baseball team is embodied in a postgame conversation with Bearcats coach Kermit Smith just moments after his team beat USC Aiken in extra innings in last week’s NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
After talking about relief pitcher Johnny Walker’s clutch strikeout late in the game, Smith emphasized the focus and calmness his team had.
“The team has been good all year about not making the situation any bigger than it is,” he said. “Although it’s a regional, it’s still a baseball game.”
And then, while in the middle of talking about the momentum shifts between the two teams, Smith -- while watering the base paths for the next game -- paused to direct a couple field workers on where to go and what to do.
I walked around a bit to pass the time while Smith gave instructions, only to hear:
“I REMEMBER WHERE I WAS!” Smith yelled.
A short time later, Smith picked up right where he left off concerning his answer without missing a beat.
And Smith, seemingly always in a cool demeanor, has passed that mentality on to his players.
Another embodiment of that, of course, is right after the Bearcats got clobbered 19-5 against Columbus State in the first game of the regional final.
Not only did Lander miss a chance to clinch its first regional title in that first game, it fell in a fashion in which anything and everything went wrong.
But during a players-only meeting before the winner-take all contest -- which started just after 11 p.m. Sunday night, no less -- the focus returned on what was at hand.
There, Peach Belt Conference baseball player of the year Patrick Grady reminded his teammates they were starting that second game with a blank slate. And from there, the Bearcats beat the Cougars 5-2 to earn an appearance in the College World Series, starting today in Cary, North Carolina.
Lander (51-7), ranked second in the country, plays sixth-ranked Chico (California) State (43-13) at 5 p.m. today at USA Baseball Training Complex. With a Bearcats win and victory by top-ranked Tampa today, the country’s top two teams will play at 5 Monday.
Amid the whirlwind spinning about his team Friday in Cary, Smith had a little time to talk on the phone
But not much.
After conducting a short practice Friday morning, the team was to visit a Raleigh-area Boys & Girls Club and then attend Friday night’s College World Series banquet.
Smith, who guided his previous team, Belmont Abbey, to the 2009 College World Series before taking the Lander job, knows one can only do so much to keep things normal in an extraordinary situation.
“You don’t want it to remain TOO normal,” Smith said. “You want to get out and embrace the moment; they’re in the World Series.”
Yes, the Bearcats are.
But on NCAA Division II baseball’s grandest stage, Smith will find a way to remind his players why they made it this far.
And, why they picked up the game of baseball in the first place.
Expect a long tournament run by Lander.
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 864-223-1813; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.